This is the first part of a series of posts about my first impressions on the social sector in the US, compared to the sector in my home country:
It has been three and a half weeks since I got to the US to train in the social sector and I would have never believed I’d be so fascinated by it in such a short time. Social ventures are supported and become successful, the general public wants to participate in it in one way or another and great ideas are shared, accepted and scaled. As part of MOLE, Movimiento de Liderazgo Educativo (in English, Educational Leadership Movement), we had discussed so much about how to build a thriving social sector back in Peru, how to convince investors and beneficiaries that government policies were not the only solution to our nation’s problems, that even we were not convinced that there was a realistic way to achieve this in time. Our huge impetus was accumulating and running the risk of hitting a wall too hard to demolish.
Some of the lessons I’ve learned about the social sector here will sure be helpful to make things clearer back home and to channel our efforts.
Pauper Funding in Perú
In the streets of Lima, our capital and isolated center of political and economic development, it is so usual to have children begging or working in the streets that most people readily ignore it. For most Limeños the concept of funding for non-profits is the same as a child in the streets: they get spare change, if any, or quick glances followed by ignoring waves of a hand. Cashiers in supermarkets ask customers if they want to donate a few cents to a charity and a great part of them refuse with distrust “because that money will help the supermarket company pay fewer taxes”. Charity and donating are not part of the mainstream culture, or are at least considered in a most condescending way.
This cultural aspect leaves funding in the hands of large companies and their corporate social responsibility divisions. Some companies like InterCorp for example, give large sums of money to well organized non-profits to reach their own goals, dedicate considerable efforts to benefiting society and even have social ventures of their own. But most large companies, most likely mining corporations, evidently collaborate because of the social pressure they face to do so. This way, because they are still companies seeking to increase shareholder value, most of them push their beneficiary organizations to only benefit the populations influenced by the company, so as to demonstrate that their business is beneficial for them. Communities outside of their interest get no help at all. With a few exceptions then, a large part of non-profit funding in Peru is influenced by profit.
The case in the US seems very different to me. Grassroots funding, collaboration and donations are a usual activity supported by crowdfunding sites, charity-oriented events that have great assistance rates and conscious, non-condescending, consumption of goods produced by social businesses, which is an increasingly usual trend. Society is motivated to contribute to social ventures because they trust them and their values, which are transparent enough to be convincing. This transparency is also evident in the way corporations contribute to society through foundations, set apart from their own CSR divisions. Recently, it surprised me to learn that Bill Gates’ largest concern now was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, instead of Microsoft itself. These organizations, where owners of large companies put their own names on the line in order to honestly contribute to society around the world, strike me as an example of transparency and real willingness to drive change and should be an example for other countries.